A Phenomenological Framework of Architectural Paradigms for the User-Centered Design of Virtual Environments

Virtual Architectural Paradigms

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 2, no. 4 (2018)

ABSTRACT: In some circumstances, immersion in virtual environments with the aid of virtual reality (VR) equipment can create feelings of anxiety in users and be experienced as something “frightening”, “oppressive”, “alienating”, “dehumanizing”, or “dystopian”. Sometimes (e.g., in exposure therapy or VR gaming), a virtual environment is intended to have such psychological impacts on users; however, such effects can also arise unintentionally due to the environment’s poor architectural design. Designers of virtual environments may employ user-centered design (UCD) to incrementally improve a design and generate a user experience more closely resembling the type desired; however, UCD can yield suboptimal results if an initial design relied on an inappropriate architectural approach. This study developed a framework that can facilitate the purposeful selection of the most appropriate architectural approach by drawing on Norberg-Schulz’s established phenomenological account of real-world architectural modes. By considering the unique possibilities for structuring and experiencing space within virtual environments and reinterpreting Norberg-Schulz’s schemas in the context of virtual environment design, a novel framework was formulated that explicates six fundamental “architectural paradigms” available to designers of virtual environments. It was shown that the application of this framework could easily be incorporated as an additional step within the UCD process.

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Ingarden’s Concept of the Relatively Isolated System and the Aesthetics of Biomimetic Virtual Forms

An Ingardenian systems aesthetics of architecture

Roman Ingarden and His Times: An International Phenomenological Conference 2018 • Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków • October 27, 2018

ABSTRACT: As virtual reality technology becomes more sophisticated, there is growing recognition of the importance of Ingarden’s thought for the aesthetic analysis of architecture in virtual worlds. For example, his distinction between the ‘building’ that is constituted as an intentional object and its physical ontic foundation provides a useful tool for understanding virtual buildings, whose unique character results largely from their novel ontic basis. Moreover, it has been noted that Ingarden’s envisioning of future technologies for the ‘illusory embodiment’ of buildings in “O dziele architektury” §2 foresaw immersive VR technologies that are only now becoming feasible.

Here, however, we argue that a different aspect of Ingarden’s thought – the concept of the relatively isolated system – may hold even more promise as a tool for analyzing innovations in virtual architecture. We trace Ingarden’s development of this concept over three decades, from his description of the ‘organism’ as a hierarchical structural functional system (1937) to his model of the human being as a stable core with changing outer layers (ca. 1941), his analysis of Bertalanffy’s ‘open system’ model (1943), his notion of the ‘partially isolated system’ (1945-46), his description of the ‘relatively closed system’ (1950-54), and the mature concept of the ‘relatively isolated system’ developed in Über die Verantwortung: Ihre ontischen Fundamente (1968-70).

We then investigate the concept’s significance for virtual architecture. A growing trend is the use of computer-aided ‘form-finding’ techniques in which the shape of a building’s exterior ‘skin’ is not intentionally planned by a human architect but emerges organically through posthumanized processes of evolutionary computation; the resulting forms often display ‘Deleuzian’ curvilinear shapes resembling the bodies of biological organisms. In “O dziele architektury,” Ingarden had noted that in practice, human architecture never displays the organic irregularity and curvilinearity seen in living trees or in the ‘cities’ built by insects, because (1) functional considerations render such forms suboptimal for human inhabitation, and (2) human architects have been historically conditioned to believe that every building they design is ‘supposed to’ harmoniously concretize regular geometric shapes. However, Ingarden’s reasoning can be interpreted as anticipating precisely those radically irregular organic structures that are now becoming possible, as innovative AI technologies allow the task of form-finding to be separated from the anthropic intentional processes of a human architect and entrusted to non-human agents.

Moreover, such biomimetic design can be carried even further in virtual environments, whose looser constraints allow the construction (and aesthetic experiencing) of buildings whose forms would be impractical to fabricate in the ‘real’ world; such virtual surfaces can serve as sites of sensation and response that mediate between interior and exterior domains, reflecting the form and function of a living organism’s skin. We argue that Ingarden’s concept of the relatively isolated system provides a powerful framework for analyzing such virtual structures, thanks to its grounding in theoretical biology and its rich analysis of the outer ‘membrane’ that selectively shelters an entity’s inner workings from external causality. Such architectural applications represent another way in which Ingarden’s thought continues to bear new and unexpected fruit.

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Cognition of the Virtual: An Ingardenian Systems-Phenomenological Account of the Perception and Understanding of Virtual Objects

An Ingardenian Model of the Human Being as a Relatively Isolated System

The 5th Avant Workshop, on “Inspirations: 20th-century Philosophy and Contemporary Studies on Cognition” • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • October 12, 2018

ABSTRACT: As immersive, interactive virtual reality (VR) technologies grow increasingly sophisticated, contemporary philosophers like Rabanus have attempted to formulate phenomenological analyses of the experiences they offer. We would argue, though, that one of the richest phenomenological approaches for interpreting the virtual objects perceived and understood through the use of VR systems was pioneered in the 20th century by Roman Ingarden, who in “O dziele architektury” hypothesized the future development of what would now be described as “VR systems” and explored our potential cognition of virtual objects.

An Ingardenian approach can incorporate: (1) Ingarden’s analysis of the stratification of artistic products, which distinguishes different types of cognitive access afforded to the physical fundament and intentional artistic, aesthetic, and cultural objects associated with a virtual object, and (2) Ingarden’s account (grounded in systems theory) of the human being as an emergent whole comprising a physical body, sensory-emotional “soul,” and intentional «I». This framework enables us to: (1) distinguish cognition of virtual objects from that of “real” objects, dreams, hallucinations, and the fictional worlds experienced when reading novels, and (2) explain the cognitive shift that occurs when someone immersed in a virtual environment comes to “forget” that the objects encountered there are “only” virtual.

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A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World as Aesthetic Object: Echo, Deepening, or Dissolution of the Lifeworld?

A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World

17th Annual Conference of the Polish Phenomenological Association: History, Body, and Life-World – On Patočka and Beyond • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • December 15, 2017

ABSTRACT: In this work we build on the ontological and aesthetic frameworks formulated by Roman Ingarden to develop a phenomenological analysis of the virtual world as aesthetic object. First, ‘virtual reality technology’ is distinguished from ‘virtual environments’ and ‘virtual worlds.’ The types of immersive, interactive virtual worlds accessed through contemporary VR technologies are further distinguished from the types of ‘virtual worlds’ accessed, e.g., by reading a novel or watching a film. Essential and optional elements of virtual worlds are identified, with special attention given to the (software-enforced) ‘laws of nature’ governing the structure and dynamics of elements in a world, the pseudo-natural origins of apparently ‘natural’ elements like wild animals and geographic formations, and the unique positions of the world’s designer(s) and human visitor(s). The potential ‘incompleteness’ of virtual architectural structures and inability to determine whether one’s social interactions are with human or artificial agents is analyzed in light of Ingarden’s interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenological model of intentionality and the perception of objects. It is shown that a virtual building, e.g., does not display all the features of a real-world building but instead possesses some characteristics found in real-world paintings.

Drawing on Ingarden’s framework, the (physical) ontic basis of a virtual world is distinguished from the (purely intentional) virtual world as a work of art that is grasped through perception and the related aesthetic and cultural objects that may be constituted by a visitor who undergoes the right sort of conscious experience. The stratification of a virtual world as a work of art is also investigated. Building on Ingarden’s critique of Husserl’s concept of the ‘lifeworld’ as the natural world that is simultaneously (a) stripped of modern scientific theory and (b) the world that we live in and manipulate, it is suggested that VR-facilitated virtual worlds (like other highly technologized forms of art) undermine the factual possibility for such a lifeworld to exist. In response, though, Patočka’s notion (influenced by Ingarden) of fictional literary worlds as ‘echoes’ of the lifeworld is noted; we thus close by raising the question of whether certain virtual worlds might potentially be employed to help restore the possibility of (perhaps temporarily) establishing a Husserlian lifeworld.

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Światło ucieleśnione i zaciemniający parametryzm: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna praktyki architektonicznej w ‘świecie elektronicznym’

Ogólnopolska konferencja naukowa ‘Wszechświat Disneya’ • Instytut Filologii Polskiej Wydziału Filologicznego Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego and the Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • December 9, 2017

ABSTRACT: W niniejszej prezentacji przedstawione jest zastosowanie podejścia fenomenologicznego w celu przestudiowania dwóch zagadnień podnoszonych przez praktyki architektoniczne obrazowane w filmach Tron (1982) i Tron: Legacy (2010). Po pierwsze, rozważamy użycie światła ucieleśnionego jako składnika budowlanego w obrazowanym w tych filmach ‘świecie elektronicznym’ (lub ‘drugim wszeczświecie’). Ludzki programista i programy komputerowe przedstawieni jako główni architekci świata elektronicznego stosują światło ucieleśnione jako kluczowy element fizyczny budynków, mostów, dróg, pojazdów, ubrań i innych przedmiotów, albo stwarzając, albo nakreślając namacalne kształty wśród ciemności poza tym niezróżnicowanej. Światło wykorzystowane jest n.p. do stworzenia platform, na których mogą stać postacie, oraz pionowych murów, które stoją na przeszkodzie innym fizycznym przedmiotom ‘zderzającym się’ z nimi. Porównujemy ten fenomen z historycznym w świecie rzeczywistym użyciem światła jako elementu architektonicznego o roli ozdobnej, przedstawiającej, dydaktycznej i funkcjonalnej oraz, w szczególności, z użyciem oświetlenia, aby symulować istnienie dużych fizycznych konstrukcji architektonicznych, które w rzeczywistości nie istnieją. Architektoniczne zastosowanie światła ucieleśnionego inspiruje pytania estetyczne i ontologiczne, które można badać przy pomocy podejścia fenomenologicznego.

Po drugie, badamy sposób, w jaki architektura w świecie elektronicznym omawianych filmów przedstawiona jest jako coś współprojektowanego przez istoty ludzkie i sztucznie inteligentne programy komputerowe przeznaczone do tej roli. W omawianych filmach, ludzki programista wybrał ogólne jakości estetyczne, które mają się przejawiać w architekturze świata elektronicznego i powierzył programom AI rolę przełożenia tych celów na konkretne konstrukcje architektoniczne, automatyzując w ten sposób proces budowania świata spełniającego dane parametry estetyczne. Tron: Legacy prezentuje szczegółowe debaty między ludzkim a AI współarchitektem dotyczące zalet wyboru jakości estetycznych takich, jak swoboda, otwartość, piękno, porządek, doskonalność, skuteczność funkcjonalna, regularność, przewidywalność i chaotyczność, jako cele i parametry dla architektury systemu. Film argumentuje za tym, że dla wspieranego przez AI architektonicznego projektowania parametrycznego wybór jakości estetycznych, które same w sobie wydają się pożądane, może jednakże powodować powstanie struktur z nieprzewidzianymi i bardzo niepożądanymi właściwościami. Wspierany przez sztuczną inteligencję proces architektoniczny, do którego już robił aluzję Tron i który wyraźniej poznany został w Tron: Legacy, może być więc interpretowany (chociaż niezamierzenie) przepowiednia i krytyka współczesnych technik projektowania generatywnego i parametrycznego oraz szczególnego ruchu Parametryzmu.

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